Westerman understood enough of the tactics of the Vendeans to know that this was practicable, and he had the quick wit and ready hand to conceive the plan, and put it in practice: he knew that the peasants would not remain in barracks, or even assembled together during the night, if they were near enough to their own homes to reach them; he knew that they would spend the remainder of their long summer evening in drinking, dancing, and rejoicing, and that they would then sleep as though no enemy were within a hundred miles of them; he knew that nothing could induce them to take on themselves the duties of sentinels, and that there would, in all probability, be but little to oppose him in attacking Clisson that night.
Westerman first had the horses fed, and having then refreshed his men with meat, wine, and brandy, he started at two o’clock. He was distant from Clisson about three leagues, according to the measurement of the country, or a little better than seven miles. There had hardly been any darkness during the night, and as he and his troopers sallied out of the chateau-yard, the dawn was just breaking in the East.
“Never mind,” said he to the young cornet who rode by his side; “the light will not hurt us, for we will make them hear us before they see us. We will be back as far as this before thirty men in the parish are awake. It will be best for them who sleep soundest.”
“Except for those in the chateau, General,” said the cornet: “those who sleep there will wake to a warm breakfast.”
“They will never eat breakfast more, I believe and trust,” said Westerman; “for I do not think that we shall be able to take the brigands alive. Their women, however, may receive some of our rough republican hospitality at Bressuire. You had better prepare your prettiest bow and your softest words, for this sister of de Lescure is, they say, a real beauty. She shall ride to Bressuire before you on your saddle-cloth, if you choose to load your arms with such a burden; but don’t grow too fond of her kisses, for though she were a second Venus, the guillotine must have the disposal of her.”
The cornet made no answer, but his young heart turned sick at the brutality of his companion. His breast had glowed with republican zeal at the prospect of a night attack on the two most distinguished of the royalist chiefs. The excitement of the quick ride through the night-air, the smallness of the party, the importance of the undertaking, the probable danger, and the uncertainty, had all seemed to him delightful; and the idea of rescuing a beautiful girl from the flames was more delightful than all; but the coarseness and cruelty of his General had destroyed the romance, and dissipated the illusion. He felt that he could not offer a woman his protection, that he might carry her to a scaffold.